MSOC season concludes with Golden Jubilee

By Karen Greer
For the Journal Inquirer
May 20, 2010

MANCHESTER — The Manchester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale concludes its 50th season with a Golden Jubilee Concert at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 22, at Manchester High School.

Music Directors Lewis J. Buckley and Kevin L. Mack have chosen a number of light classical favorites for this festive occasion. Fittingly, two of the works on the program were written to celebrate 50th anniversaries.

The orchestra and chorale combine forces to perform “Serenade to Music,” an exquisite expression of the powers of music from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” Ralph Vaughan-Williams composed “Serenade” in 1938 to commemorate 50 years of conducting by Sir Henry Wood. He wrote it for an ensemble of 16 voices, all known to him, and assigned solo passages to specific singers.

Malcolm Williamson’s “Ode to Music” was also written to celebrate a 50th anniversary; that of the Robert Meyers Children’s Concerts. The first performance of the work, in 1973, was by school choirs accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra. These two pieces share another connection — the text of “Ode to Music” is a poem by Ursula Vaughan-Williams, the second wife of Ralph Vaughan-Williams.

Orchestral works on the program include the Polovtsian Dances, the best-known work of Russian composer Alexander Borodin. Although Borodin was a gifted composer, he frequently had to put his music aside as he pursued his career. He was not only a composer, but also an eminent research chemist and physician, and one of the founders of the Medical School for Women in St. Petersburg.

Founded in a living room

MSOC was founded by a physician who, like Borodin, maintained a vigorous musical life even as his professional responsibilities grew. Fifty years ago, Dr. Francis Helfrick invited local musicians, including some of the other doctors at Manchester Hospital, to play together.

The first sessions were held in Helfrick’s living room, but under the direction of John Gruber, the group grew not only in size, but in ability. The very first concert included Beethoven’s First Symphony, and a piano concerto with Gruber as the soloist.

“Helfrick, who died last January, recalled the excitement of the first concert in an October 2009 interview with orchestra member Richard Burgess. To add to the drama, the orchestra assembled on the Manchester High School auditorium stage behind the closed curtains. “When it came time to play, the curtain pulled back and we were off and going!”

A family tradition

MSOC has kept going ever since. Its members are now passing the tradition down to their sons and daughters.

MSOC’s family tree includes young musicians like high-school senior Byron Perpetua, who’s played in the orchestra alongside his father, Victor Perpetua, and who composed the work “Celebration” heard at MSOC’s February concert.

The next generation is literally putting a new face on MSOC. Elizabeth Belbruno-Weber, the daughter of chorale member Diana Belbruno and MSOC treasurer John Belbruno, recently collaborated with her husband, Matthew Weber, to create MSOC’s Facebook page.

All this would have pleased Dr. Helfrick, who envisioned MSOC as a “wonderful place for a young musician to gain experience.”

Manchester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, conducted by music directors Lewis J. Buckley and Kevin L. Mack, will perform the Golden Jubilee concert at Manchester High School, 134 E. Middle Turnpike, on Saturday, May 22, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students over 18, and free for those under 18.

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